Lily Flowers, with their spectacular array of colors and unique structures, are rich in meaning and symbolism around the world. These flowers make excellent gifts, suitable for many occasions throughout the year. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the history and origins of lily flowers, their meaning and symbolism, uses and benefits, and the most popular types grown and gifted today.
Lily Flower Meaning & Symbolism – The Essentials:
In the language of flowers, the Lily has long held the symbolic meaning of fertility, purity, and remembrance. Lily flowers are a time-honored inclusion in memorial arrangements and are considered spiritually symbolic of the circle of life. Individual types of lily flowers and the respective colors of the petals may hold additional meanings.
The Lily Flower
Typically blooming from early summer to late autumn, true lilies (plants in the Lilium genus) are perennials that feature a scaly bulb, leafy stems, narrow leaves, and either clustered or singular flowers.
The beautiful flower is comprised of six petal-like segments. These six segments tend to resemble a trumpet with a lengthy tube in a few varieties of lilies, such as the Easter Lily and Madonna Lilly.
In other varietals of the true lily plant, the six petal-like segments tend to be reflexed, resembling a turban. Some of the lilies that feature this unique posture include the Turk’s Cap Lily.
Not only that but there are also lilies that have slightly less reflexed segments, giving them the shape of an open bowl. Case in point is L. auratum and L. umbellatum.
Other flowers are also commonly called lilies but aren’t technically true lilies as they are not part of the Lilium genus. These include the calla lily, peace lily, Peruvian lilies, and water lilies, also known as the lotus flower.
History and Significance of the Lily Flower
The history of the lily takes us back to around 1580 BC in Crete. Here, in Greek mythology, the lily is believed to have been created from the breast milk of Hera, the wife of Zeus, king of the gods on Mount Olympus. It symbolized both purity and immense beauty.
Lilies still hold great value in Greek culture. To this day, brides wear crowns made of lilies for their beauty and symbolism. The significance of lilies wasn’t only limited to Greece, as both the Old and New Testaments include a reference to the lily flower.
Lily Flower Symbolism
While most cultures viewed the lily as a symbol of purity, there were other cultures that took the lily as a symbol of death and mourning. In these cultures, lilies used to be put on the graves of saints, martyrs, and innocent children.
Looking at it from another point of view, it seems like the lily flower represented a different form of purity for such cultures: purity in passing.
The beauty of the lily flower is so enchanting that Augustine Henry, a notable explorer from the Victorian era, ceased his search for medicinal plants to dedicate his explorations to finding the lily flower and all of its types. As a way of honoring his quest, the Orange Lilium henryi, also known as Henry’s lily, was named after him.
Augustine Henry wasn’t the only person enchanted by the beauty of the lily flower. Ernest Henry Wilson, the known British explorer and plant collector, searched far and wide in China in search of lilies. E.H. Wilson’s quest resulted in him finding the White Lilium regale, which you may know as the Regal Lily.
Lily Flower Meaning by Color
Along with their symbolism, different color lilies each have a different meaning.
The white lily, aligning with the history of the flower, represents purity or rebirth. They are ideal flowers for weddings as part of a bouquet or decor.
In a contrasting message, white lilies are also a flower of mourning, forming part of funeral arrangements or used as sympathy flowers.
Madonna lilies are also commonly called white lilies, named so for their connection to the Catholic Church. Many religious paintings use white lilies to represent the purity of the Virgin Mary.
The red lily, much like a red rose, is associated with romantic love and passion. They make wonderful alternatives to a rose bouquet as a gift for Valentine’s Day. Combined with white lilies to symbolize commitment, they are a symbol of true and long-lasting love.
One of the most popular color choices, pink lilies have connotations of friendship, compassion, and admiration. They make a wonderful birthday flower or Mother’s Day gift for the special people in your life.
The yellow lily, thanks to its bright colors, has many positive meanings. They are associated with happiness, loyalty, and new beginnings. Give these flowers to someone starting a new chapter in their life.
Although not a common color, the green lily is an ideal gift when wishing someone good luck. They symbolize renewal and growth, and their color is linked to wishes of success and financial prosperity.
True green lilies are quite rare, but green Calla lilies are more common. The calla lily flower has a slightly different meaning to the true lily, used in religion to represent resurrection as a symbol of life. Much like the contradiction within the true lily meaning, they are also a symbol of death.
Fiery and bright, the orange lily is a symbol of courage and confidence. The most popular of these is the Tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium). Great gifts for congratulatory events, they are perfect for graduations, new homes, and new jobs.
Purple lilies are also not as common as the other flower types but carry no less significance. This color represents peace, royalty, and spiritual enlightenment.
Popular Types of Lily Flower
Stargazer Lilies were introduced around 40 years ago, and still to this day remain one of the most beloved lilies by enthusiasts of the plant. The flower blends a breathtaking array of colors that combine white, crimson, and pink, in addition to bright red freckles sprinkled on its petals.
Calla Lilies are native to South Africa. Although not true lilies, they remain some of the most beautiful flowers you can find and are wildly popular. They’re available in various colors such as white, pink, and yellow.
Tiger Lilies are a long-lived species of lily native to China, Japan, and Korea. The orange blooms and black freckles grant this species a very unique look.They’re also the official zodiac flower for Aries.
Turk’s Cap Lilies
These lilies tend to be early-summer bloomers, making them perfect for accenting perennial gardens. One of the most exotic blooms in the lily family radiating beautiful colors and remarkable fragrances.
Regale Lilies often bloom during mid-to-late summer. These are extremely perfumed flowers that will have your garden or home smelling like a piece of heaven.
The Oriental Lily is known as one of the most reliable cut flowers in the lily family. Its performance doesn’t get hindered even in colder conditions and is grown extensively in many regions.
This lily boasts colorful blossoms that look just as sweet as they sound. The Asiatic Lily is an early-summer bloomer with large up-facing flowers.
Lily Flower FAQ
What is the spiritual meaning of lilies?
Lily flowers are a time-honored inclusion in memorial arrangements in western cultures and are considered spiritually symbolic of the circle of life. In the language of flowers, the Lily has long held the symbolic meaning of fertility, purity, and remembrance.
What does it mean if someone gives you lilies?
The Lily flower has long been linked with rebirth, motherhood, and fertility and is a popular gift to celebrate life. In China, the Lily Flower is a popular stem to symbolize love and romance and features prominently in wedding celebrations.
Are lilies fragrant?
Lilies are prized for their sweet fragrance. Trumpet Lilies in particular produce a heady scent in the late summer and early fall months.
Do lilies need a lot of sun?
Lily flowers are generally tolerant to a range of light conditions though typically thrive best in full to partial sun.
Are lilies poisonous to pets?
Many lily varieties are considered toxic to pets according to the ASPCA. Ingestion can lead to gastric discomfort and also cause tremors.
Petal Republic’s flower and plant guides:
Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion?Check out Petal Republic’s expert buying guides to Roses, Goldenrod, Astrantia, Viburnum, Ranunculus, Irises, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, Bluebells, Coreopsis, and Peonies.
Contributing Editor | Full Bio | + posts
Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.